Medication side effects on oral health
It is common for older adults to take multiple medications for various health conditions. Medicine is an important part of many treatment plans, but it may also have side effects that could impact your oral health.
Here, we’ll explore common medication side effects that can affect your teeth and mouth. You’ll also learn simple ways to manage them to maintain optimal oral hygiene.
One of the most common medication side effects that can affect oral health is dry mouth. Dry mouth occurs when your mouth doesn’t produce a healthy amount of saliva. Saliva is more important than you may think — it plays a major role in the health of your mouth by helping to wash away food particles, neutralize acids and fight the bacteria that leads to cavities. Several types of medications, including those that treat high blood pressure, depression, allergies and pain, can cause dry mouth.
How to manage it: There are many ways to combat dry mouth. The simplest way is to drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your mouth moist. Limiting your caffeine and alcohol consumption will also help. Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on a sugar-free hard candy is also a good way to stimulate saliva production.
Some medications can cause your gums to become enlarged. Doctors aren’t sure why some medications cause this overgrowth of the gums, but certain anticonvulsants (used to treat seizures), immunosuppressants (decreases the body’s immune response) and blood pressure medications are known to cause this problem.
How to manage it: Fortunately, good oral hygiene is highly effective at warding off this uncomfortable oral health medication side effect. Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Don't forget to floss daily. Twice-yearly dental visits will also ensure that your oral hygiene is on track. If you notice that your gums are becoming swollen and overgrown, talk to your doctor about the treatment options available to you.
Oral thrush is a fungal yeast infection that can cause painful white patches inside your mouth. This infection is common in patients who have compromised immune systems, on antibiotics or are using an oral inhaler.
How to manage it: Patients using an oral inhaler can help prevent oral thrush by rinsing their mouths with water (or better yet, brush their teeth) after using their inhaler. Talk to your doctor about medications that may help relieve thrush symptoms.
Take-home message: Tell your dentist about your medications
Let your doctors, including your dentist, know all the medications you’re taking and any medication-related side effects you may be experiencing. Your doctor may adjust your medication regimen if the side effects are causing problems, but never stop taking a prescribed medication without your doctor’s knowledge.
Medication side effects can have a significant impact on oral health for older adults. Understanding the potential side effects, such as dry mouth, enlarged gums and oral thrush, is important. By implementing some simple tips and communicating with your healthcare providers and dentist, you can limit the effect of oral health medication side effects. Good oral health is essential for overall health, and being proactive can help you have a healthy smile as you age.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
The Journal of American Dental Association